Friday, October 30, 2015

You Don't Know Jackfruit

Can I say "freaking" here, you know, in that way, without offending anyone too terribly much? I hope so, because I'm going to. I recently had lunch at The Happy Hooligans (formerly Happy Bamboo) in San Jose. This all-vegan sit-down-or-take-out restaurant is practically hidden in a strip mall on Branham and Ross, across from a big Safeway. But once you find it, the comfort food they advertise really delivers. In fact, you can also get your food delivered through at least a couple of services, including DoorDash.

After looking over the extensive menu, trying to narrow it down to the one thing that would make my vegan heart sing that day, I finally settled on the Jackfruit Carnitas Enchiladas. I was the only customer in sight when I walked in, just a little bit before noon, but tables started to fill up quickly, and the one adorable server kept up with grace and a smile that rivaled her shiny silver jewelry.

Before I go any further, I just want to cut to the chase and tell you that these enchiladas were... here it comes... freaking amazing.

Look! Are you feeling it? These were real enchiladas, willing and able to satisfy your Mexican food cravings in a way most other vegan enchiladas can only dream of. While I'm grateful that more and more places offer sort of "accidentally" vegan menu items, by simply leaving out the non-veg ingredients, I'm always ecstatic when I find a restaurant that dedicates itself to beautiful intentional vegan fare. That's what I found at The Happy Hooligans.

The tortillas were soft and fresh, the sauce rich with chile and spice and flavor, and the cheese was melty and creamy. But the superstar here was the jackfruit, marinated in an authentic carnitas style that tastes like the Mexican food I used to love in my pre-veg days.

I've mentioned before that I'm not the biggest fan of fake meats, although I do see a clear and expanding place for them in the world. I prefer minimally processed, expertly prepared foods. And jackfruit is one of those things that, when done right, is practically perfect in every way. It's just one thing, from one plant, but it absorbs the flavors in sauces and marinades beautifully, while still holding it's texture. Jackfruit knows who it is, and it plays well with others. I think we can all learn from that.

What could have made my lunch even better? Well, not much, honestly. The fluffy, richly-flavored rice was delicious mixed with a little bit of the avocado (a generous half an avo), some whole black beans, and a smidge of the enchilada sauce. (I'm a bite mixer.) I never once reached for the extra sauce bottles on the table, or for the salt. The only thing I did ask for was a side of salad dressing for the crisp lettuce-and-tomato "garnish" that was really a side salad in itself. (Their ranch dressing is fabulous.)

I'm hoping for one more visit to The Happy Hooligans before I go back to Portland. If not this trip, for sure next time, and on many visits to come, to try some of the Asian dishes (like the Pho, Pad Thai, and Lemongrass Chick'n), the salads, burgers, mac and cheese, and of course a dessert or two (hello, dear cheesecake). I have a feeling though, that I'll always wander back to my first love in this wonderfully inconspicuous vegan comfort food haven.

Until we meet again, I'll be dreaming of those freaking amazing enchiladas.

I did go back the next day, and I had another delightful meal. This time I ordered the Chick'n Curry, packed with vegetables and and swimming in thick, spicy yellow curry gravy that was splendid with the nutty brown rice served alongside.

The guy sitting at the table next to me went for some of the breakfast items that aren't on the regular menu, but are sometimes served on weekends. I hopped right up and said, Ooh! Can I take a picture of that? What was he going to say? No? Haha!

I didn't go so far as to ask him for a bite, but he told me that The Happy Hooligans is his favorite restaurant, and he eats there all the time. Good enough.

Then... I ordered dessert. To go. And to share...

I know some folks think of cinnamon rolls as a breakfast item, but not me. I prefer to save my delectable white flour and sugar bombs for later in the day, maybe with an afternoon coffee. And the cheesecake, even later, with a sip or two of wine, made my mouth very, very happy. I gave most of it to my dad, because he loves cheesecake. I wasn't sneaky. I told him it was vegan, half expecting him to take one bite and say something like, Well, it's not like your mom used to make...

But no! He ate the whole slice, and said, This is really good. If you didn't tell me, I'd never know it was vegan. How about that?

Finally, I knew I was going to need some travel food for my trip back to Portland, so I ordered a jackfruit burrito for the road. Oh yeah, I got it bad for the jackfruit.

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